The KEEN Whisper is a close-toed model with a single elastic cord that serves to tighten the whole sandal. While this is a solid concept, it's not executed as well as it could be, and we found this model to be inferior to the KEEN Clearwater CNX in most of the metrics we tested. The Whisper is wider than the Clearwater, and those with narrow or regular feet will find themselves sloshing around in them. Its heel strap has weak elastic and is not adjustable, so it's easy for the wearer's heel to slip off the back of the sandal. Finally, its distinct style is distinctly not for everyone, to the point that some of our testers were embarrassed to wear it out of the house. On the upside, those with wide feet will likely find themselves more comfortable in the Whisper than in the Clearwater. The Whisper performs well in and out of the water, so it's a solid option for rafting or river hiking trips.
Keen Whisper Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Fits wide feet, good in and out of water, simple adjustment
Cons: Bulky, weak heel strap, not stylish
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We added the KEEN Whisper to our test group to see how it stacks up against the competition, especially the KEEN Clearwater CNX. After weeks of testing and direct comparison with other top models, we found the Whisper to be bulky, homely, and not great at keeping our foot in place. Those with wide feet may find this model adequate, but most everyone else should check out the Clearwater instead.
How comfortable the Whisper is will largely depend in part on your foot shape. This is a very wide sandal, significantly wider than its sister, the KEEN Clearwater CNX. Because of this, our narrow-footed lead tester found that she had to crank down so hard on the elastic adjustment cord that the sandal's upper panel buckled and pressed into the top of her foot, which was very uncomfortable. Those with wider feet shouldn't experience this.
Other than the issue above, the Whisper's materials are fairly comfortable against the skin, and we didn't experience any chafing or sore spots out of the box. Compared to most of our test group, this is a very high-coverage sandal, and so it may make your feet hot, but it will provide much more airflow than a typical hiking shoe. The closed toe box also made rock hopping and stream crossing much more comfortable, since we weren't in constant danger of mashing our toes.
The Whisper's sole is molded and fairly thick while still remaining flexible, and this gave us a feeling of stability while on flat or downhill trails, even when the trails were rocky. However, the exceptional width of this sandal allowed for some side-to-side play, which made our footing feel less stable. Worse, the Whisper's heel strap is not adjustable and is far too loose, so our feet would easily slip off the back of the sandal when going uphill. This made the sandal feel goofy and unreliable. The Clearwater CNX has a narrower footbed, and a tighter (though still not adjustable) heel strap and that model felt more stable. The Chaco models all excelled in this area.
The Whisper scored around the middle of the pack here. In general, it performs adequately on land and in water, and for those it fits (namely, those with wide feet), this will be a decent hiking or river-hopping option. However, compared to the stars of the test group, it has some downfalls. The lugs are fairly shallow and irregular, and they didn't feel quite as grippy on any wet or dry surface as the Clearwater CNX. The sole is also slightly stiffer than the Bedrock Cairn Adventure or the Chaco models, which made it less able to conform to contours or rocks on the trail.
Again, the loose heel strap is an issue for the Whisper in this category. The traction on the footbed is adequate, but not enough to keep the foot in place on its own, and the heel strap isn't helping. This issue only worsened when the footbed got wet, so during river crossings, our heels would slip off the back of the sandal. This was less of an issue with the Clearwater CNX, and not an issue at all with the Chaco models or the Bedrock.
Like its sister, the Clearwater CNX, the Whisper has a single piece of elastic cord woven through the top of all of its straps. Pull the cord, and all the straps get tighter. Loosen the toggle, and they all loosen.
This is great if you crave simplicity and hate the thought of having to dial in a bunch of straps before you head out the door. It's not so great if you want a custom fit, since no strap can be adjusted independently of the others. We found the toe box on this model to be really wide, so tightening the cord enough to bring the sandal anywhere near the sides of our toes meant squeezing the life out of our insteps. This will be less of a problem for those with very wide feet, who are more likely to fill out the interior of the sandal.
Finally, like the Clearwater CNX, the Whisper's heel strap is elastic but not at all adjustable. Our testers found this to be a problem. The elastic isn't strong enough to keep our feet in place, which meant our heels constantly slipped back. Most of the other models we tested have adjustable heel straps, and this helps to dial in the fit of the sandal and keep your foot in place during technical pursuits.
For those with wide feet, the Whisper is fine for hiking, water sports, and light around-town use. However, we wouldn't recommend this model to anyone for backpacking, since the heel strap issue is exacerbated by the weight of a backpack. This model is also tough to bike in due to its bulk, and the fact that there's nowhere sensible to stow the long elastic cord that flops around when the sandal is tightened. It's also not stylish enough to work with most outfits.
The photos in this review will be your best guide to the style of the KEEN Whisper. What do you think? Would you be proud to sport these on the trail or in town?
If you're still unsure, we'll give you a little more context: Our testers were not happy to wear these out of the house, since their bulky shape and floppy elastic cord turned a normal errand-running outfit into a clown costume. When we surveyed friends and family and asked them to rate the Whisper on a scale of 1 (full ugly) to 10 (super stylish), several respondents tried to break the system by giving this sandal a 0. But remember, confidence is the coolest accessory there is, so if you dig the look of the Whisper, then go forth and wear them with pride.
Do you have wide feet? Are you planning a bunch of river rafting or hiking trips this summer? Does the thought of stubbing a toe make you cringe as much as the thought of swathing your feet in hot, full-coverage hiking boots? Then this might be the sandal for you. We would not recommend this sandal for narrow-footed users, or for those who will be wearing a heavy pack. Those who are looking for a stylish trail-to-town model should also look elsewhere.
At $90, we think the Whisper is a bit overpriced given what it delivers. This model isn't as comfortable or adjustable as many others in our test group, and it's far less stylish. We're also very concerned that the already weak elastic in the heel strap could wear out completely after a season or less of rigorous use, which would render the sandal ineffective.
In spite of its name, the KEEN Whisper is a bulky, somewhat clumsy close-toed sandal that tightens on your foot by way of a single elastic cord. While this model provided decent traction and kept our toes intact during river crossings, we were frustrated by its ineffective heels trap and turned off by its goofy style. If you have very wide feet and don't mind the look of the Whisper, this might be the sandal for you, but most wearers will be happier with the Clearwater CNX.
— Joanna Trieger